International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Kham QC has joined the outpouring of concern that has greeted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, warning that his office would prosecute any act of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes committed within the territory of Ukraine since February 20, 2014, “ including by ordering, inciting, or contributing in another manner to the commission of these crimes”.
He reminded all sides involved in the hostilities that a September 2015 declaration by Ukraine accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), thus giving his office the authority to investigate any such crimes.
“It is imperative that all parties to the conflict respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” Khan said in a statement dated February 25, 2022.
He pledged that his office will continue to closely monitor the situation in Ukraine and promised to issue a detailed statement “providing clarity on my assessment and the next steps I envisage” on his return from a mission in Bangladesh .
“In the independent and impartial exercise of its mandate, the Office [of the Prosecutor] (OTP) remains fully committed to the prevention of atrocity crimes and to ensuring that anyone responsible for such crimes is held accountable,” he said.
Khan said the court cannot exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression because neither Russian nor Ukraine are states parties to the Rome Statute.
“My office has also received multiple queries on the amendments to the Rome Statute with respect to the crime of aggression which came into force in 2018, and the application of those amendments to the present situation,” said the statement.
After the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014, Ukraine lodged the declaration (https://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/other/Ukraine_Art_12-3_declaration_08092015.pdf) accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed in its territory since February 20, 2014. The declaration, lodged under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, enables a state that is not a party to the statute to accept the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court.
On April 17, 2014, Ukraine lodged a second declaration under the same article accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC over alleged crimes committed on its territory from November 21, 2013 to February 22, 2014 onwards.
In 2020, the OTP concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.
The crimes include murder and torture committed during the ‘EuroMaidan’ protests in 2013 - 2014, and war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides to the conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and in Crimea after Russian troops occupied and illegally annexed the peninsular.
A preliminary examination was closed by the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and so far investigations have not been open yet. In December last year, Khan said there were no updates on the case yet.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has won international condemnation. United States President Joe Biden termed it an “unprovoked and unjustified attack”. The Group of Seven (7) industrialised nations promised severe and coordinated economic and financial sanctions against Moscow.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to “bring your troops back to Russia”.
The chief of the European Union Executive Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, said the bloc will hold Moscow accountable for the “unjustified” attack.
Protests against the invasion have been reported in major cities in Europe, including Russia itself, and the United States.